President Park returns to face daunting tasks

President Park Geun-hye returned from her nine-day Middle East trip Monday with substantial diplomatic achievements under her belt, but the daunting tasks that have piled up at home could hamper her efforts to normalise state management and secure public support.

During an impromptu meeting with reporters on her way from Doha to Seoul on Sunday, Park said she would visit US Ambassador Mark Lippert, who was attacked by a South Korean extremist last week.

The president went straight from the airport to Yonsei Severance Hospital, where Lippert has been treated since last week, reflecting her priority in reaffirming the Korea-US alliance.

During her Mideast tour, Park called Lippert and made official statements twice about the incident, stressing that it should not damage on Korea-US alliance.

Park is also facing escalating disputes over an anticorruption bill that passed last week. The landmark antigraft bill bans not only public officials but also journalists and school staff from taking more than 1 million won in gifts.

But the decision has invited fresh criticism, as some parts of the law were vague and likely unconstitutional. Opponents said it was put to a vote without careful consideration.

The president said she would also seek a meeting with leaders of the ruling and the opposition parties to request their assistance for the passage of economic reform bills pending at parliament.

Wrapping up her tour to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Park said South Korea has built a deep trust in the region to expand bilateral economic ties.

"All of the leaders I met (during the tour) have expressed their deep trust in South Koreans in terms of competitiveness, techniques, professionalism and sincerity," she said aboard the presidential plane, adding that building trust was the top priority when doing business with the Middle East.

During a summit, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thanion said he ordered local firms in the wealthy Gulf states to preferentially treat Korean firms who are bidding for infrastructure projects.

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, plans to spend about US$100 billion (S$138 billion) on construction projects including railroads, expressways, harbors and stadiums.

South Korean officials said they expected to participate in $29 billion worth of infrastructure projects in the future, including the construction of the main stadium, railway and sewage processing.

"As we have hosted (the event) before, I told him not only infrastructure building but also security is important," she said. "I promised to help Qatar host the event successfully through bilateral co-operation."

The South Korean president also said she would support young workers wishing to work abroad, including in the Middle East.

"I have seen a lot of work opportunities in the Middle East for young people in the field of law, medical services and culture. I have given thought that I should help let them display their abilities even in overseas markets," she said.

According to local pollster Realmeter, Park's job rating rebounded to near 40 per cent last week, a 4 percentage point increase from the previous week. The sharp increase appears to have followed her achievements on the Middle East trip and the return of conservative supporters in the wake of an unexpected attack against the U.S envoy, the pollster said.

South Korean authorities have been looking into the case and its possible link with pro-North Korean forces.